NEW YORK (
) -- The UK publication
called Daft Punk's single "Get Lucky" with Pharrell Williams "the sound of the summer and probably the year." Currently it's at No. 15 in the U.S. on the
It's a good song. I like
. But "Get Lucky" isn't my choice for song of the summer.
Don't get me wrong, the song is infectious -- more of an ear worm than the rest of the album (and I mean that in a bad as well as a good way). It should do well and may even reach No. 1 for a while.
But it doesn't get my vote for song of the summer. That will go to a song written and recorded in 1967, "Light My Fire," by The Doors.
Why that song? Because Ray Manzarek is dead. A founder and the keyboard player for The Doors, Manzarek died this week at age 74. Nobody who followed him ever had a bad thing to say about him, particularly his musicianship.
But this isn't an obituary. Ever since I heard the news, I can't get "Light My Fire" out of my head. Call it a speculative investment. I'm looking for LMF to skyrocket. Again.
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A "summer song" is a special category of pop hit -- it has to represent the freedom of summer, the holiday, the sun, the nakedness and the potential for romance. Summer songs typically aren't freighted with deeper meanings the way "Light My Fire" is. "Get Lucky" is more typical -- easy, steamy, nothing deeper, extolling the virtues of a mindless good time.
But 1967, the year "Light My Fire" was a summer hit, wasn't like any other year. Call it the "Summer of Love" if you like, but innocence was already hard into the process of being thoroughly smashed, like Grandma's best porcelain.
There was a small city within a city camped out and grooving on each other at Haight-Ashbury, that's true. But the Vietnam War was also in full swing (although we weren't allowed to call it a "war. Our teachers told us the correct term was "conflict").
Race riots rocked Newark and Detroit. Malcolm X had been assassinated in 1965 and into that void stepped a militant "black power" movement. Meanwhile, young people of every kind everywhere were being routinely treated as potential threats to society.
The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy in 1968, the Chicago Seven trial and the craziness of Woodstock in 1969, the 1968 election of Richard Nixon with his escalation of the war, the 1970 killing of students in a demonstration at Kent State by National Guard soldiers -- all foreshadowed -- would eventually wear down much of the rampant idealism that, for the moment, was still thick in the air.
Released on the band's debut album, "The Doors," "Light My Fire" was the band's first big hit. It went to No. 1 on Billboard's charts in late July of 1967. The album lodged at No. 2 for two weeks on the Billboard 200 chart, kept out of No. 1 only by the Beatles' legendary "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."
The song, with Jim Morrison's seductive vocal, has a dark, powerful quality, inciting "the time to hesitate is through, no time to wallow in the mire, try now we could only lose, and our love become a funeral pyre." Those lines said "seize the spiritual LSD moment," according to Manzarek,
, with him playing examples on the piano as he's talking.
In that audio clip, Manzarek shows how the song was made, the whole group collaborating effectively, each bringing in their own strengths: guitarist Robby Krieger, the basic inspiration and a Latin-tinged feel, Morrison the dark poetic images, Manzarek and drummer John Densmore enlivening with jazz and rock references deeply rooted in Manzarek's keyboard bass lines.
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"Freedom" was the word of the day, infused in every aspect of the youth culture. Seizing the moment meant, in part, acknowledging that wide range of cultural influences, the freedom available at the turn of a radio dial. Manzarek's reference to LSD seems off-putting to those for whom drugs represent only addiction, criminality and self-delusion. But in 1967, LSD represented a liberation from old patterns of thought, a freedom to imagine new possibilities, breaking down boundaries to reveal new realities both beautiful and terrifying. It was all the more potent a symbol once the government made it illegal in 1966.
The message of "Light My Fire" is hedonistic, yes -- push the sensational envelope, get higher, love without considering the consequence because death awaits us all. But all that also was emblematic of an important social distinction, a thrilling way of looking at a world where anything was possible, an anarchistic embrace of freedom that the Baby Boomers' parents, survivors of the Great Depression and World War II, struggled to understand or simply dismissed.
This year, 2013, is nothing like 1967. No year can be. But death still looms, hedonism is still attractive, summer is still hot and sensual. A similar disconnect again exists between the halls of power and the paths of personal experience. The Baby Boomers especially, faced with far fewer summers left to them, are primed for another seize-the-moment season.
Manzarek's death, along with that of Woodstock star Richie Havens a few weeks earlier, will act as a catalyst, sparking a renewed interest in "Light My Fire" in particular -- a great song as well as a great emblem.
Look for lots of air play in the coming weeks, and in coming months look for remakes from younger artists (egged on by some gray-haired suit with a hookah stashed on his trophy case in the record label's back office), look for it to turn up as a last-minute addition to summer blockbuster movies or as theme music for just about anything exciting that happens during the month of July.
And if none of that happens, it's still a great song.
-- Written by Carlton Wilkinson in Asbury Park